Mitch Williams’ Amazing Month: Eight Wins Out of the Bullpen
This article was published in the 2013 The National Pastime.
The Philadelphia Phillies concluded July 1991 having lost seven straight games on a West Coast trip. A pair of wins on July 30 and 31 over the San Diego Padres at Veterans Stadium, however, moved them to within one game of the Montreal Expos, with whom they had usually rivaled for the NL East basement.
NL East standings
July 31, 1991
|New York Mets||55||45||.550||5.5|
|St. Louis Cardinals||53||47||.530||7.5|
On April 7 of that season, the Phillies traded pitchers Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan to the Chicago Cubs to acquire Mitch Williams, a 26-year-old left-handed pitcher. Phillies skipper Jim Fregosi designated him as the club’s late-inning reliever and through the end of July, Williams had posted a 1–3 record with 19 saves and an ERA of 2.70.
The Phillies began that August with a four-game road trip to Montreal. Philadelphia continued its winning ways on the evening of August 1, defeating the Expos at Olympic Stadium, 4–1, in a complete-game effort by Terry Mulholland, who improved to 10–10 with the victory.
But then … it began: Mitch Williams’ amazing month.
A month in which Williams would be the winning pitcher in eight ballgames, challenging the National League’s record of nine wins in a month, first set by Christy Mathewson in August 1903 and 1904, and then tied by Grover Cleveland Alexander in May of 1920. Seventy-one years after “Old Pete,” and completely out of the blue, “Wild Thing” was about to threaten these Hall of Famers for the mark.
Many probably think that Williams must have set up his own wins by blowing saves, only to have the Phillies rally in their final at-bat and secure “vultured” victories for Williams. The assumption certainly follows the reputation Williams carried throughout his career, but it could not be further from the truth. While there were a couple of vultured wins and many tightrope acts along the way, Williams earned most of his victories normally: by holding the opposition scoreless long enough to allow his teammates to score the winning run.
VICTORY #1: AUGUST 2, 1991
With the score tied 5–5, Williams was summoned to pitch the bottom of the ninth in Olympic Stadium. After retiring Larry Walker, he walked Gil Reyes, who left for pinch-runner Eric Bullock. Bullock proceeded to steal second and third, but Williams stranded him by fanning the next two hitters.
The Phils failed to score in the top of the 10th, and once again, Williams had to pitch out of trouble in the bottom of the inning. Delino DeShields led off with a walk and was balked to second by Williams. But Williams killed the scoring threat, retiring the next three hitters. Dickie Thon led off the top of the 11th with a homer off Mel Rojas. Mike Hartley entered the game in the bottom of the 11th and retired the Expos in order to save the game for Philadelphia. Williams, with the victory, improved his record to 2–3.
Williams did not appear in the next Phillies game on August 3 in Montreal, but the Phils continued their winning ways, defeating the Expos 7–1.
VICTORY #2: AUGUST 4, 1991
With the score knotted at two runs apiece heading to the bottom of the ninth, Mitch Williams was called upon to try to send the game into extra innings. Larry Walker started the inning by drawing a walk. Mike Fitzgerald attempted to bunt Walker into scoring position, but Williams fielded the ball and threw errantly to first base, allowing Walker to reach third and Fitzgerald to reach second with no outs. Bret Barberie was walked intentionally to load the bases. The high-wire act had a successful outcome, though. Junior Noboa popped out to second for the first out. Delino DeShields then hit a grounder to first baseman Ricky Jordan, who threw home for the force on Walker for out number two. Finally, Williams retired Marquis Grissom on a pop to Jordan for the third out, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Lenny Dykstra legged out an infield single with one out, stole second, and scored on Dale Murphy’s RBI double to put the Phillies ahead, 3–2. Williams remained in the game and set down the Expos in 1-2-3 fashion in the bottom of the inning to secure the win, evening his record at 3–3.
VICTORY #3: AUGUST 6, 1991
Following an off day on August 5, the Phillies returned home on August 6 for the start of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs.
With the game tied, 2–2, after nine innings, Wally Ritchie held the Cubs scoreless in the top of the 10th, and after the Phils failed to score in the bottom of the inning, Williams was called upon to pitch the 11th. Once again, it wasn’t pretty, but it had a nice outcome for Phillies fans. Shawon Dunston started the Cubs’ half of the 11th with a walk and stole second. Rick Wilkins was then plunked with a “Wild Thing” pitch, putting the first two Cubs aboard. But Williams settled down: Jerome Walton popped out to first, Chico Walker lined out to right, and Mark Grace grounded out to second to end the Chicago threat. The Phillies then won the game in the bottom of the 11th with a Dale Murphy walk-off grand slam. Williams improved his record to 4–3.
VICTORY #4: AUGUST 7, 1991
Carrying a seven-game winning streak into the contest on August 7, the Phillies battled to a 4–4 tie heading into the 11th inning. Williams was once again brought in to try to keep the game knotted and, in atypical fashion, he retired the Cubs in order.
Les Lancaster entered the game for Chicago in the bottom of the inning, and retired Dickie Thon on a comebacker. But then the wheels came off the bus as Randy Ready singled and went to third when Lenny Dykstra doubled to left. Darren Daulton was intentionally walked, and Wes Chamberlain sent the Veterans Stadium crowd of 26,294 home happy by singling to center to score Ready and give the Phils a 5–4 win in 11 innings. Williams again claimed the victory, upping his record to 5–3.
The following afternoon, the Phils beat the Cubs, 11 – 1, behind a strong outing by Danny Cox and Steve Searcy, lengthening the Phillies’ winning streak to nine games.
VICTORY #5: AUGUST 9, 1991
After the Cubs left town, the Phillies welcomed the Montreal Expos for the start of a four-game series. In the top of the eighth, with one out and runners on first and third, Williams was summoned from the bullpen. He walked the first hitter he faced, Andres Galarraga, to load the bases. Delino DeShields then followed by working a walk as well, forcing home Barberie with the tying run, and giving Williams a blown save. But Williams kept the score tied at four by retiring Dave Martinez on a 4-3 ground-ball double play.
Williams benefitted as the Phillies scored a run in the bottom of the eighth, and stayed on to pitch the top of the ninth. Ivan Calderon started the inning by looking at a called third strike, but Wild Thing was in trouble when he hit Larry Walker with a pitch after giving up a double to Tim Wallach. Gil Reyes fanned for the second out, and Barberie ended the game by flying out to right. The Phils had won, 5–4, with Williams emerging as the winning pitcher for the fifth time in seven games, spanning eight days.
The Phillies’ winning ways would continue through the weekend, as they beat the Expos, 4–2, on August 10. Williams made an appearance in the game, entering to pitch the ninth inning in an attempt to pick up a save. He retired Mike Fitzgerald on a comebacker to start the frame, and forced pinch-hitter Spike Owen to bounce out to short for the second out. Delino DeShields then doubled to left, bringing Marquis Grissom to the plate as the potential tying run. But Grissom grounded out to short to end the game, giving the Phillies their 11th straight victory and Williams his 20th save of the season.
On Sunday, August 11, Williams appeared in his third straight game, entering to pitch the ninth after the Phillies took a 5–4 lead. After Williams retired the first two hitters, Marquis Grissom walked, and then stole second. But Bret Barberie took a called third strike to end the game, providing the Phillies a dozen consecutive wins and Williams his 21st save.
A Monday night game concluded the four-game series. The Phils extended their run to 13 straight victories by beating the Expos, 2–1, behind a complete-game effort by Terry Mulholland. The 13th win tied the Phillies’ twentieth century club record for consecutive wins, set August 3–16, 1977. During the streak, the Phillies had gained nine games on first-place Pittsburgh, and were closing in rapidly on the fourth-place Cubs.
NL East standings
August 12, 1991
|St. Louis Cardinals
|New York Mets
The Phils then embarked on a six-game road trip that would take them to Pittsburgh for three games and Chicago for three. On August 13, the Phillies’ winning streak would end as the Pirates beat them at Three Rivers Stadium, 4–3. The following evening, the Bucs won again, 5–3. Mitch Williams did not appear in either game.
On August 15, the Phils beat the Bucs in the Steel City. With a 6–4 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth, Mitch Williams was called on for a two-inning save. He retired the Pirates in 1-2-3 fashion in the eighth. After the Phils failed to score in the top of the ninth, Williams returned to the hill for the bottom of the inning. He worked his magic once again, retiring the Pirates in order to give the Phils a 6–4 win. It was Williams’ 22nd save of the season.
The Phils then moved on to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field for a three-game set against the Cubs. On August 16, Bruce Ruffin could not complete the first inning, allowing six runs in one-third of an inning as Chicago defeated the Phils, 9–1. Williams did not appear in the contest, but the following afternoon he came to the rescue of the Phillies and Terry Mulholland.
Mulholland took a 5–1 lead into the bottom of the ninth on August 17, and after allowing a leadoff single to George Bell, he got Luis Salazar to bounce into a 4-6-3 twin-killing. Needing just one more out for a complete game, Mulholland allowed a triple to Shawon Dunston. Joe Girardi’s single to center plated Dunston to cut the Philadelphia lead to 5–2. Williams was called upon to record the final out.
Williams walked the first batter he faced, Chico Walker, to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Hector Villanueva pinch-hit for Jerome Walton, and Williams retired him on an easy fly to right, preserving the 5–2 Philadelphia win and earning his 23rd save.
On the afternoon of August 18, Williams would prove that he was indeed still fallible—he lost a game. It would be his only defeat in the month of August.
Williams entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at six. In the top of the 10th, Paul Assenmacher set down the Phillies in order, and Williams returned for the bottom of the 10th.
Mark Grace started the inning by bouncing out to second baseman Randy Ready. Ryne Sandberg reached on an infield single to third before Andre Dawson popped out to third for the second out. Sandberg then stole second, and scored when Shawon Dunston singled to left, giving Chicago a 7–6 win in 10 innings, and hanging the loss on Williams, who fell to 6–4 on the season. August 19 was an offday for the Phillies, and on the 20th the team opened a three-game series at the Vet against Pittsburgh. Despite the Phillies using five pitchers in their 6–5, walk-off win against the Bucs, Williams did not appear in the game.
VICTORY #6: AUGUST 21, 1991
In the top of the eighth inning, Pittsburgh was rallying against Phillies starter Jose de Jesus. After Gary Varsho’s two-out double plated Mike Lavalliere and John Wehner to bring the Pirates back to within one, at 5–4, Williams entered the game to try for the four-out save. It did not work.
The first batter Williams faced was Gary Redus, who promptly stroked a single to right, scoring Varsho from second to knot the game at five runs apiece. Redus then swiped second, but Williams fanned Jay Bell for the third out.
The game remained tied entering the bottom of the ninth against the Bucs’ Bob Kipper. Ricky Jordan led off with a double to right, and was replaced by pinch-runner Braulio Castillo. Lenny Dykstra’s single to center moved Castillo to third, and Kipper was lifted in favor of Bill Landrum. Dykstra stole second. With the infield drawn in, Randy Ready grounded to third for the first out, with the runners holding their bases. Wes Chamberlain fouled out to first, and Landrum could see his way out of the inning. John Kruk was walked intentionally to load the bases and bring up Williams’ spot in the order. Wally Backman hit for Williams, singling into right-center to score Castillo. The Phillies had emerged victorious once again, winning for the second straight night in walk-off fashion, 6–5.
VICTORY #7: AUGUST 22, 1991
The Phillies and Pirates were tied, 3–3, at the end of nine, so play proceeded into extra innings with Mitch Williams taking over the Philadelphia pitching duties in the top of the 10th. Despite a leadoff walk, Williams escaped the inning unscathed. The Phillies failed to push home a runner from second with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, and the game went into the 11th. Once again, Williams kept the Bucs’ bats in check.
Bill Landrum started the bottom of the 11th for Pittsburgh, allowing a leadoff single to center by Wes Chamberlain. A walk to John Kruk advanced Chamberlain to second, and both runners advanced a base when Charlie Hayes put down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Bob Kipper replaced Landrum, and intentionally walked Jim Lindeman to load the bases. Darren Daulton then singled to right, scoring Chamberlain to give the Phillies a 4–3 win in 11 innings, and a sweep of the Pirates in three straight walk-off wins. Williams was the beneficiary, winning the game to improve to 8–4.
The sweep allowed the Phillies to move to within 12 1/2 games of the front-running Pirates, and to within one game of fourth-place New York.
NL East standings
August 22, 1991
|St. Louis Cardinals
|New York Mets
Philadelphia headed on the road to Atlanta on August 23 to start a three-game weekend set with the Braves. Williams did not see action in the Friday evening game, as Tom Glavine and the Braves defeated the Phillies, 4–2.
VICTORY #8: AUGUST 24, 1991
In Saturday night’s game, the Phils took a 5–4 lead into the bottom of the eighth, when Phillies manager Jim Fregosi called on Williams for a two-inning save. But the Braves had other ideas. Terry Pendleton started the bottom of the eighth by singling to center, and moved to second when David Justice drew a base on balls. Ron Gant also worked a walk to load the bases with no one out. Williams retired Brian Hunter on an infield fly to second for the first out. However, Greg Olson tied the game on a sacrifice fly to center that plated Pendleton. Jeff Blauser was caught looking to end the inning, and the teams advanced to the ninth inning, knotted at five.
Tony Castillo came on to pitch for Atlanta in the ninth, and struck out Lenny Dykstra for the first out. But Charlie Hayes homered to left to put the Phils back on top, 6–5. Williams came out to pitch the bottom of the ninth and try to lock down his eighth win of August.
Williams surrendered a walk, but otherwise stymied the Braves. The Phillies had a 6–5 win, with Williams picking up the victory to run his record to 9–4. It was Williams’ third win in four days, and pulled him within one victory of tying the National League record for wins in a calendar month.
Williams also saw action in the final game of the series. With the Phillies ahead 6–5 in the bottom of the eighth and the Braves having the tying run at third with two outs, Williams relieved Wally Ritchie. Williams retired Terry Pendleton on a liner to center, ending the Atlanta threat. After the Phillies went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, Williams promptly walked the first batter, Ron Gant. But Gant would never reach second base as Williams retired David Justice on a fly to left, Brian Hunter on a fly to center, and then whiffed Francisco Cabrera to end the game. The Phils had yet another August win, defeating the Braves 6–5 with Williams notching save number 24 on the season.
After Atlanta, the Phils continued their road trip by moving on to Cincinnati for two games. Williams did not appear in either game at Riverfront Stadium as the Reds won both: 5–4 on August 26 and 4–2 on August 27.
The team returned home for a two-game series against Houston on August 28. With the Phillies ahead, 8–7, going to the top of the eighth, Williams came into the game. Once again, he was in hot water from the outset as Rafael Ramirez reached on an infield single and moved to second when Jeff Bagwell singled to left. Ken Caminiti then hit a grounder to third. Charlie Hayes stepped on the bag for the force on Ramirez, then fired to second for the force on Bagwell. Wally Backman’s relay to first was late, but the Phils had recorded two outs on the play. Casey Candaele then ended the inning by striking out. The Phillies were retired in order in the bottom of the eighth, and action moved to the ninth with Williams still in the game.
Again, Williams was in trouble from the start. Steve Finley singled to right. Andujar Cedeno fanned, but Finley stole second on the third strike. Craig Biggio walked, and Luis Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases with Astros. Gerald Young hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Finley and tying the game, 8–8. Rafael Ramirez then struck out swinging to end the Astros threat.
If the Phillies could muster a run off Rob Mallicoat in the bottom of the ninth, Williams could pick up yet another win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to happen. Charlie Hayes started the inning by flying to left, but Randy Ready worked a walk. With the potential winning run at first, Xavier Hernandez was called into the game by Astros manager Art Howe. Hernandez struck out Ricky Jordan for the second out. Jim Lindeman, hitting for Williams, also fanned, sending the game into the 10th, still tied at eight. The Astros scored twice off Mike Hartley in the top of the 10th, but sacrifice flies by John Kruk and Darren Daulton re-tied the game. Charlie Hayes’ RBI single with two outs scored Dale Murphy, and the Phillies wound up winning, 11–10, in 10 innings.
Williams did not appear the rest of the month, and concluded August 1991 with an amazing eight wins.
Had August been just one day longer, however, Williams would have tied the record. On September 1, Williams entered a 4–4 game in the top of the ninth and pitched two scoreless innings against Atlanta. John Morris led off the bottom of the 10th with a homer, giving the Phils a 5–4 win, and Williams his 10th victory of the season.
Williams would go on to win two more games, picking up a win on September 19 against Montreal, and another October 4 against the Mets. He finished the season with a 12–5 record and 30 saves in 69 appearances.
In the month of August 1991, Williams posted these statistics:
The Phillies finished August 1991 with a 20–9 record, the best month they had enjoyed since going 22–7 in September 1983.
NL East standings
August 31, 1991
|St. Louis Cardinals
|New York Mets
The Phillies would finish the season in third place with a 78–84 mark, 20 games behind the NL East champion Pittsburgh Pirates. This had to give hope to Phillies fans who had expected a season where the club would struggle to avoid 100 losses. But thanks to Mitch Williams and his amazing August, the 1991 Phillies finished in the top half of the division standings for the first time since 1986.
Final 1991 NL East standings
|St. Louis Cardinals
|New York Mets
BOB BOGART joined SABR in 1991. His major interests are scorekeeping, records, ballparks, and Phillies history. He is a cryptologist for the National Security Association and has written textbooks for use in the National Cryptologic School curriculum.